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Published in CenterView on September 09, 2013

Assuming food services leadership should help UMMC meet strategic plan objectives

By Bruce Coleman

For the first time in close to a quarter-century, the University of Mississippi Medical Center is about to manage its own food services department.


Most UMMC employees, students and patients may not even notice a difference.

That would delight Phillip Grady, administrator of UHHS support services, who says a seamless transition from a contract management system on Tuesday, Oct. 1, would reflect a successful food services leadership conversion.

He said enhanced amenities, such as an expanded menus and additional food outlets, will come later.

“We’ve been listening to suggestions made by patients and employees,” Grady said. “Over time, after the conversion, they will predominantly see a difference in the variety of food and new menu items.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done to make the conversion. There’s a lot of complexity involved in switching over. We have to form business relationships with food vendors, most of which will be done primarily through our group purchasing organization.”

Hospital administration’s decision to allow UMMC’s five-year food service management contract with Sodexo to expire should help the institution better meet its strategic plan objectives, Grady said.

“With the contract set to expire, it was a natural time for us to consider whether we wanted to bring it in-house or have it go back out to bid again,” he said. “This decision is consistent with three of our goals: to be an employer of choice, to improve patient satisfaction and to be good financial stewards.

“Ultimately, we felt in order to have closer alignment with UMMC’s objectives, it was best to have a management team that was made up of UMMC employees.”

John E. Hall will serve as the temporary director of food and nutrition services. Grady said Hall’s experience in both contract-managed and self-operated hospital food service environments in the Florida Hospital System will be vital to the Medical Center’s successful conversion.

“He had been a part of a very progressive system at Orlando Health,” Grady said, “so he has a skill set that will help us make this transition smoothly.”

Assisting Hall will be John Pelton, a veteran of the Jackson metro-area food services market. Known to many employees from his days as director of food services at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, “Chef John” comes to UMMC from River Region, where he also served as director.

“What John Pelton has been able to do at both these institutions is improve food quality and drive satisfaction with food,” Grady said. “He’s been in a self-operated environment for the past 11 years.”

Grady said the management change eventually should allow food service leaders to provide a more selective menu for UMMC patients. He said the patient dietary computer system will go “back to the future” when it reverts to an updated version of the Computrition software used in the hospital five years ago.

Over a period of months, Grady said the software will become fully integrated with Epic.

One temporary casualty of the conversion will be the Chick-fil-A Express restaurant located in the University Hospital cafeteria. Grady said Chick-fil-A and Sodexo have a licensee relationship that prohibits the Medical Center from engaging the restaurant in service contract negotiations while the restaurant is being managed by Sodexo.

“We’re now in the process of developing a relationship between the Medical Center and Chick-fil-A,” he said. “The Chick-fil-A Express may be down for a period of time, because an agreement like this requires due diligence and isn’t something you want to rush through.”

Grady said leadership is working on a similar solution for Starbucks, which also will be impacted by the conversion.

In the meantime, Grady said UMMC is exploring a number of potential solutions, such as working with local Chick-fil-A vendors to provide sandwiches for sale in the cafeteria until the restaurant is back up and running.

The expiration of the Sodexo contract also will have an effect on the Medical Center’s concierge service. Sodexo had provided management for Circles Concierge, which fulfilled requests for needed items and services for Medical Center employees. But UMMC leadership has a plan for that as well.

Customer service representatives in the Office of Patient Affairs will fulfill the patient and way-finding services, including assistance with notary public needs. Little-used services such as travel arrangements, car detailing and dry cleaning will be discontinued.

No longer having a management contract with an outside vendor will provide UMMC leadership an opportunity to be more creative with food services, Grady said.  
“Knowing that we’re not bidding out the contract every five years and knowing that we have our own team and our own business plan to operate our own services, we can focus on meeting patient, visitor and employee food service needs,” he said. “That is highly liberating.”

Customizing the gift shops

Food services aren’t the only department being brought under the Medical Center’s leadership umbrella.

The UMMC Bookstore has taken over management of the gift shops in University Hospital and in the Winfred L. Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants.

Both gift shops closed for renovation on Sept. 1 and are expected to reopen later this month.  

According to Angela Robinson, director of stores (auxiliaries) who now manages the shops, Medical Center employees and visitors will notice an enhanced shopping experience at both locations.

“We are excited to bring the gift shops back to in-house management and we are hoping to better satisfy our customers by customizing the stores to meet their needs,” Robinson said. “Our new selection of merchandise should give our customers the opportunity to purchase gifts for any occasion.

“We will offer traditional gift items as well as holiday and seasonal items and we will continue to have a wide assortment of snacks and drinks.” 

According to Grady, revenue from both gift shop and cafeteria sales now will belong to the Medical Center exclusively.

“The gift shop managers will be part of our team,” he said. “They’ll be focused on our way of doing things.”